Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: You said in a recent column that “silent treatment ... is abuse.” But what if you’re angry and/or hurt and don’t feel like talking to the person until you can get past whatever the issue is?
Then you say clearly, “I am angry (and/or hurt) and don’t feel like talking to you until I can get past whatever the issue is.” It is cruel to slam the verbal door without explanation.
You also need to continue speaking to the person on a logistical level — “Please pass the salt,” “Have you walked the dogs or do you need me to do it,” etc. No acting as if the person isn’t there.
And no dragging out a period of contemplation just because you want to feel like you’ve made a point. Choosing not to talk about it is OK, but only to give you time to sort yourself out. Get back to speaking regularly as promptly as possible.
And when you do feel better, don’t just flip a switch and act as if nothing ever happened. People deserve closure – “Thank you for giving me time to think about this; I’m ready to talk about it if you are” — even if you ultimately both decide it’s best not revisited.
There are a lot of things we all “don’t feel like” doing — and when you’re the only person on earth, that can control your decision process. Until then, you’ll need also to consider the impact of your choices on others.
Re: Silence: You recommend taking the high ground over personal distance (silent treatment), but you’re not touching on how doing this with certain issues can lead to continued abusive behavior.
When feelings are expressed about an issue, and the response is another instance of the same issue, how do you avoid an infinite loop? Particularly when hurt feelings are actively dismissed or even mocked.
Here’s my longtime stance on infinite loops of any kind: If you approach someone on something important to you, and if you are unhappy with the way this person responds, and if you then keep approaching the person on this issue and keep feeling unhappy with the result, then it is time for you to recognize that you are not going to get the answer you want from this person. Ever.
Therefore, you have to break the loop yourself by making different choices, up to and including getting out of a relationship. Especially one in which you are actively dismissed or even mocked.
It can take a while to get to know someone, and to get to know your own priorities — that’s time well-invested. Time spent approaching your mud pie and asking it to become chocolate? Not so much.
Re: Silence: You also have to be clear about why you’re upset. When I was a child and did something to upset her, my mother expected me to know what I’d done — sometimes I really didn’t. She would then just … not speak to me at all, often for days. When I was really young, this gutted me.
Awful, I’m so sorry you had to deal with that as a kid.
You are so right about articulating your reasons, thank you.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.